Lord Keen's resignation: What now for whiplash reform?
Lord Keen was the driving force behind-the-scenes on the whiplash reforms. Who is expected to take his place, and what is their stance on the whiplash reforms?
Parliament last week was characterised by high-profile resignations, backbench rebellions and last minute compromises, all in the name of passing controversial Government deals on Brexit. One could be forgiven for thinking Westminster had gone back in time a year to 2019, apart from the fact much of the debate happened in front of an empty House of Commons, as social distancing measures continue to be enforced.
The controversy over the Government’s Internal Market Bill has dominated the political agenda over the past week. In essence, the proposed law would give the Government the legal power to override parts of the EU Withdrawal agreement (signed less than a year ago), despite the fact overriding the deal would be in contravention of international law. That alone was bound to make it a difficult sell to Conservative MPs, and although the worst of the would-be rebellion has been seen off by an agreement that MPs would be able to vote prior to the usage of any of the powers outlined in the Bill, a number of the Government’s most senior legal advisers have resigned over the move.
The most relevant resignation to the insurance industry is the (now-former) Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Keen. In addition to his Advocate General role, Lord Keen had been in post at the Ministry of Justice since 2016, making him one of the most consistent characters in Government, and giving him an unparalleled knowledge of the development and progress of the whiplash reforms.
Indeed, Lord Keen is understood to have been the driving force behind the reforms in recent months, even as they have faced delays. From pushing officials to have the necessary regulations ready in time to being the face of the reforms in the House of Lords, there are few within Government who understand better what is required to get the proposals over the line.
Attention now turns to the appointment of his successor. Given the complicated constitutional role that Lord Keen performed as Advocate General for Scotland, the Government has a tough job finding an immediate successor. And in any event, it is possible that his other responsibilities within the Ministry of Justice (including civil justice reform) are separated from his role and given out to the other Ministers. Both Parliamentary Under Secretaries at the Ministry of Justice could be in the running: Alex Chalk MP has answered questions on whiplash reforms on behalf of the Government in recent months, whilst Chris Philp MP already has the courts within his portfolio of responsibilities (and was a big supporter of these reforms as a back bencher).
Whomever receives the call to make sure the reforms pass safely will need to act fast, with the April 2021 implementation date approaching and a distinct lack of information currently available on the timetable of how to get there. Whenever they are appointed, the insurance industry must make sure the new Minister responsible has this issue right at the top of their in-tray.